Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Smart Socialites

Whit Stillman has a new movie called Damsels in Distress coming out this year. As I look forward to that, I took a look back at one of his New York classics. When the Criterion Collection release of 1990's Metropolitan came out in 2006, Luc Sante wrote the accompanying essay.

He said, "Nowadays, you might wonder whether there is anyone left on Park Avenue whose fortune antedates the second Reagan administration. New money is so loud and so insistent that old money has either slipped discreetly away to ancestral hideouts or has, as it were, gone native. Metropolitan, which looked like a perverse bit of daring in 1990, today seems like an artifact from an earlier century."


An artifact it is. The socialites of 1990, in Stillman's lens, are smart, literary, intellectual snobs.

They dance the cha-cha and the rumba. They use words like "untenable" and discuss Thorsten Veblen and Lionel Trilling. They make statements like, "I'm a committed Socialist, but not a Marxist. I favor the socialist model developed by the 19th-century social critic Fourier." And "Bunuel's a surrealist, despising the bourgeoisie is part of their credo."

They read lots of books.


Fast forward to two decades later. Gossip Girl is also about young socialites on the Upper East Side.

These kids are not the brightest bulbs, nor do they value the intellect. They say things like: "He texts me every night before he goes to sleep, it's so sweet." And "You know how torturous it is for me to find shiny things that aren't intended for me." And "I think that whore may be my mother."

Gossip Girl

We're left with "high society" reality stars, celebutantes like Jules Kirby, who likes to go downtown and say stuff like: “It’s fun to go hang out with blue collar people at a scummy bar. They do fratty things like play beer pong.”

Now with Kourtney and Kim Take New York, we've also got the Kardashians, who spell everything with a K to match their name--the Kardashian Kard, Kardashian Konfidential, etc. You think Stillman's kids would've tolerated such misspellings?


I might not have liked them, but I miss the smart old socialites. I was on the Upper East Side recently, thinking about how much I used to like to go up there, once in awhile, and look at all the super-rich people in their natural habitat. Ladies in crazy hats and furs. Men in exotic plaids. All the fusty shops with windows full of products you had to be an old-money WASP to know about--Spode plates, cloth cocktail napkins, stuff like that.

Now it's all the same stores they have on Bleecker Street and the Bowery. And it's all the same people, too.


Crazy Eddie said...

Wow, how true. I also saw the “sequel” to Metropolitan, Barcelona. I am actually an acquaintance of someone from this world. He was already was one of them, he married a Rockefeller. Truly sad when even their world is now being scrubbed out as well.

EV Grieve said...

I never thought I'd miss intellectual snobs.

And I'm glad Whit has a new movie coming out.

esquared™ said...

love metropolitan. it is the smarter prototype of gossip girl

per slate: The dialogue is also free from a naturalism that might place the action in a real time and place. The characters deliver long, intellectual speeches with syntactical aplomb.

"as as nick rhapsodizes in metropolitan": "So many things which were better in the past have been abandoned for supposed convenience.”

also, alphagirl had a good writeup on metropolitan

Anonymous said...

As a person who loves Whit Stillman AND Gossip Girl, this isn't an accurate appraisal. Metropolitan is about a certain type of overachieving, prep school debutante that still very much exists, I know, I recently graduated from an Ivy League college (scholarship!) that was full of them. It's also self-consciously about teenagers playing dress up and pretending to be adults. Gossip Girl is a soap opera. Even so, it's also about teenagers acting like adults in an extremely adolescent way. One of the characters does aspire to the old money world: Blair Waldorf. She goes to Tati movies, spends days in Paris at the Musee D'orsay, talks about literature, etc. It isn't as smart as Metropolitan, but it's also for teenagers across the country, while Metropolitan was an art film for adults that go to independent movie theaters.

Crazy Eddie said...

"It's also self-consciously about teenagers playing dress up and pretending to be adults. Gossip Girl is a soap opera. Even so, it's also about teenagers acting like adults in an extremely adolescent way."

Like Robert Chambers and his crew. I know, he was really working class but his crew was from the preppie world.

Anonymous said...

gossip girl is very boring & pretentious. saw some of it on you tube, & shut it off after 2 segments. one of the actors is good. but its flat. you soon tire of the people & i dont think i would like it even if i was 16.

Anonymous said...

Crazy Eddie,

Could you clarify what you mean by that?

Gil Roth said...

I've never seen GG, but I wrote an appreciation of Metropolitan (which I hadn't seen since it was in the theaters) a few weeks ago, followed by a weird meander through the UES a day or so later.

Ancient Grudge New Mutiny said...

I can't really fetishize any aspect of preppie culture, "high" (Metropolitan) or "low" (Gossip Girl). Two sides of the same coin and both have contributed the same spiteful harm to our city's working class. This nostalgia, longing for some "purer" Nazi, is hysterical nonsense.

laura said...

"J" that world will never leave us. they have too $ to go away. they are just not as visible in the media. forget the media, its mostly trash. btw, paris hiltons mother is just a regular person, nothing special. & most of that family is NOT in the world you describe. they are not accepted.

Brendan said...

Interesting old post. Agree with laura that the "smart" NYC socialites never went anywhere. I went to college with a bunch of them. Also, Gossip Girl is about the same people, just a different facet of their lives. The kind of people portrayed in Gossip Girl can expound on Bunuel with the best of them when it's called for, I promise.

laura said...

J, they are still refined places where the decent people go. @ one time it was "mortimer's". (the 80s). "sette mezzo" is very nice, a family restaurant. please read the NYtimes article i mailed to you. there was a time when all of madison ave. was closed on sundays. then when the chain stores moved in, that changed. as the new $$$ tourists came. many smaller specialty shops moved to lexington. intelligent people of all levels have always ran from the "invaders". whether they live on ave B, or upper park. its the same, they avoid madison ave as you may avoid bleeker at. as for the film mentioned, i saw bits of it on youtube, & its very boring.